Old Town Bangkok: Preview Venice of the East

Tonight I decided to study my map of Bangkok.  I know it sounds funny since I’ve lived in this city for years, but I have to confess that I usually only go to the areas I am used to.  I know how to get to places and what directions to go, but there are certain areas in Old Bangkok and across the river that still are a mystery to me.  It becomes like another world.  A criss cross of roads that run in random directions.  They are not all thoughtfully planned out in blocks like in the US.  Old towns have their uniqueness.

I learn more than I thought I would from my study of the map.  I learn that the oldest road in Bangkok “Charoen Krung” actually runs adjacent to the river and curves along with it.   I also learn that the wholesale markets of Sampeng and Paohurat (Little India) which exists actually have canals probably dating from ancient days running straight from the main Chaophraya river uptowards the wholesale market area.  Bangkok’s Chinatown is located not too far.  Trade in olden days had brought various cultures to Bangkok and as is often the case, people settle near to main transportation routes.   Along this route too is our main train station which stands beautifully in turn of the century architectural style.  One day I have to go inside.

I am reminded that Bangkok in previous lifetimes had been called the “Venice of the East” with its web of canals.  Canals were used for transporting goods and houses and business popped up along its banks.  My parents had told me how in childhood days, busy business district roads had been lined with beautiful canals filled with lotus.  I wish I could see Bangkok then.  It must have been so beautiful.  Now the roads are lined with cars.

It reminds me of my visit to the Bangkokian Museum.  The guide had told us how in olden days the road upon which I had entered the house was a canal.  In fact, he said there had been so many more canals before they were closed up in to make way for roads and to prevent the spread of cholera.  The river had been much more acessible.  I shall have to read up more about this part of history.

I suppose this is what trade everywhere looked like before.  Large ships with goods would come down the river.  Goods would then be transported by barges down canals and to the warehouses which would line up along its path.  The goods would then be distributed by land from these warehouses.  Singapore’s Clarke Quay too served the same purpose.  Now I understand why some of the largest trading families in Thailand own properties in the old areas of Bangkok. It all comes together quite well.

I went on a canal tour a couple of years back by long-tail boat, but I think its about time I took it again.   History I am discovering to be more and more fascinating.  Through history one can learn and understand not only the past, but also the present.  Its because of history that certain things are the way they are. Fascinating isn’t it?  Let’s go on a canal tour one day.  Now its on my “To do” list.